Solving global issues through trees

Last month in Paris, hundreds of leaders including heads of state, corporate executives, scientists, government officials, and more, gathered at the 21st Session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 21). The goal for this Session was to discuss a global climate agreement where countries around the globe reduced their carbon emissions. The collaboration and partnership between individuals from countries all over the world illustrates the importance for each of us to address our impact on the environment.

How can trees and my daily habits change my carbon footprint?

At the Arbor Day Foundation, we work closely with companies and individuals who are seeking to positively address their impact on the environment. Whether it’s from carbon emissions or water usage, we all individually and collectively have a specific footprint that impacts our world. The good news is that by working with the Arbor Day Foundation we can create a positive effect through trees.

Arbor Day Foundation Programs:

Carbon offsetting – Carbon emissions are one of the largest contributors to climate change. Through reforestation in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, corporations and individuals can retire verified carbon credits for each “ton” of carbon they emit. This opportunity allows us to offset individually such as our car’s emissions, or offset air travel or heating bills.

The benefits of tree planting go far beyond sequestering carbon, it also creates jobs, restores vital wildlife habitats, and helps control flooding.

Watershed restoration – Strategically planting trees in impaired watersheds throughout the country has been proven to drastically change the water quality of these watersheds. Millions of Americans all over the country depend on trees to filter the water they use. This opportunity allows is to ensure that future generations will have clean water.

Ways to reduce your own Footprint:

  • Carpool or ride your bike to work
  • Turn off lights and appliances when leaving rooms
  • Wear clothes like jeans more often between washes
  • Moderate printing, better yet go paperless
  • Take shorter showers
  • Wash clothes in cold water

city smogThe meetings in Paris are a great reminder that whether or not you are reducing your footprint as a major corporation or in your own home, it is important to remember we all have a role and we all belong to something greater.

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Accepting the Forest Chiefs Honor Award

Last month I had the privilege of visiting Washington D.C. to accept the Chief’s Honor Award—the highest awards given out by the U.S. Forest Service to publically recognize exemplary achievements in Forest Service programs that contribute to the Service’s strategic goals.

The Engaging Urban America award—the award presented—recognizes Forest Service individuals, work units, partnerships, or groups that have demonstrated major achievements in promoting conservation education, community “greening” efforts, and management of urban forests and youth opportunities to volunteer in urban forestry activities in their neighborhoods.

As Chief of the USDA Forest Service Tom Tidwell and others spoke of the award I was taken by the power and influence of partnerships. This was an achievement of federal, state and local collaboration. Public and private partners engaged to change the lives of children in Denver. It was a memorable experience to witness how Nature Explore, and more importantly, the challenge of connecting young people with nature has been embraced and championed by so many with a common goal. In this case, it was an opportunity to recognize US Forest Service team members who are leading the way.

I accepted the award on behalf of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation for our work with the Warren Village project. Warren Village is a program that helps motivated, previously homeless single parent families to move from public assistance to personal and economic self-sufficiency through subsidized housing, on-site child care, educational guidance and career development.

The Certified Nature Explore Classroom at the Greta Horowitz Learning Center at Warren Village is unique for multiple reasons. The Center uses Creative Curriculum, a child-centered approach in which the children’s interests drive a variety of projects. The Center is located in downtown Denver, and although there is a public park close to the Nature Explore classroom at Warren Village, residents of Warren Village wouldn’t use it out of fear of their safety. This Nature Explore classroom gives mothers and children the comfort of security with the enjoyment of outdoor exploring.

This project was a collaboration of organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Parks & Wildlife. The sponsored classroom illustrates the great work we can do when we come together.

Additionally, the outdoor space at Warren Village serves as a model of how communities can engage local partners. One example of its effect is in Philadelphia, where a second classroom is being created with the help of the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Forest Service.

It is meaningful to be part of something that is enriching lives through outdoor classrooms and inspiring to see where else our collaborations will lead us.

Norway Spruce: A Tree of Many Uses

Picea abies

Norway SpruceThe English resisted calling the Norway spruce by its name, instead referring to it as the “common spruce.” The Finnish claimed it as their own, calling it the Finn spruce, while others, the European spruce. Regardless of what you call it, the Norway spruce is a European staple. Best known for its durability and towering heights, the Norway spruce has spread its popularity across the Atlantic and into the U.S., becoming an American favorite.

What makes this tree even more likeable is its multiple uses. It is an important lumber crop in Europe, producing a strong light-weight wood with a straight grain, making it an ideal choice in construction. It’s a great landscape tree for its dense foliage and tall heights. The tree’s natural pyramidal shape and green color make it one of the most popular Christmas trees in the country.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding a Norway spruce to your tree family.

Environmental Conditions:

  • Does well in acidic, clay, loamy, moist, sandy and well drained soils (hardiness zones 3-7).
  • Does well in full and partial sun.
  • Medium to fast growing tree, growing up to two feet a year and reaching 40-60 feet at maturity.

Physical Attributes:

  • Has dark green, one inch needles with squared tips, needles are retained for six to seven years before dropping.
  • Has a thin, reddish-brown bark that thickens and flakes off as the tree ages.
  • Cones start to form at age 30, with seeds dropping during the winter or early spring, providing food for wildlife.

Tag us in a photo with your Norway spruce!

SMA Announces its 2016 Urban Tree of the Year: Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’

Musashino Columnar Zelkova habit

The coveted upright narrow habit of ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

The following is a guest post by our friends at Society of Municipal Arborists.

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) has voted Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ the 2016 Urban Tree of the Year. The yearly selection must be adaptable to a variety of harsh urban growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. It is often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters. The SMA Urban Tree of the Year program has been running for 20 years, and recent honorees include yellowwood (2015), ‘Vanessa’ parrotia (2014), and live oak (2013). You can see the full list of past winners on the SMA website,

Zelkovas are native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. introduced Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ to the North American nursery trade in 2000. Named after a city in Tokyo (which itself is a city but also a prefecture containing multiple other cities), ‘Musashino’ has been a successful and popular street tree for many more years in Japan, proving itself useful as a narrow, upright form of zelkova. It has the genetic potential to reach 45 feet (14 m) in height and 15 feet (4.6 m) in width at maturity. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

Frank Schmidt & Son. Co. literature says of the fast-growing ‘Musashino’, “Used singly, it is a landscape exclamation mark. Planted in groups or rows, this unusual cultivar creates a vertical design statement for parks, campuses, boulevards, and other public spaces. Perfect symmetry makes it a great choice for creating inviting alleés or visual screens to block unsightly views.”

In Rochester Hills, Michigan, the forestry division’s Dave Etz has overseen the planting of 47 ‘Musashino’ within the last six years. “So far we like what we see,” Etz says. “It’s adaptable to

difficult site conditions and appears to be one of the hardiest zelkova cultivars. After two consecutive winters with temperatures dipping near or below -20F (-29C), we’ve seen zero dieback, and many of our ‘Musashino’ are located along major roads and boulevards, where they also show good tolerance to deicing salt spray.”

Etz finds that ‘Musashino’ leafs out a bit earlier in the spring than the other zelkova varieties they’ve planted, and the new foliage seems to tolerate light frost. He says, “On our relatively young trees the fall color hasn’t been outstanding (yellow/bronze), but references indicate the fall color can be excellent (bright yellow to rusty red), so we’re hoping this will improve as our trees mature.”

Musashino Columnar Zelkova fall color

One expression of fall color on ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Providence, Rhode Island City Forester Doug Still has good things to say about ‘Musashino’. “It’s an interesting choice for tree of the year because it is somewhat of a niche species selection, literally,” he says. “Its narrow, upright form works when there is limited above-ground space for the tree canopy to grow.”

The largest project where Still has planted ‘Musashino’ has been a great success. In Providence, Atwells Avenue is well known for its wonderful Italian restaurants, a gourmet destination for the whole region. The street has relatively narrow sidewalks for a business district, with building frontage at back of sidewalk, restaurant awnings, and some sidewalk café seating. There isn’t a lot of room for trees to spread, and some business owners were concerned about having their signs blocked.

When funding was provided to plant trees up and down Atwells Avenue in 2007, this seemed the perfect location to try out ‘Musashino’. Still says, “The street called for a more formal uniform tree selection so, breaking from our pattern of providing diversity to each street tree planting, we planted 25 ‘Musashino’ trees. They proved to be an excellent performer, with very little care thus far.”

Still was concerned about the tight branching pattern on a species already known for its jumble of branches all emanating from one area on trunk, at least with some zelkova cultivars. He says, “I was surprised at the nursery to see that although the branch pattern is dense on this cultivar, the attachments were solid and arrange spatially up the trunk rather than from just one point. They’ve also proven to be healthy growers without (I’m afraid to say) much watering or care from adjacent business owners. I heartily recommend ‘Musashino’ zelkova when you’ve got a tight space and you need a reliable tree.”

Musashino Columnar Zelkova summer foliage

Dark green summer foliage of ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Over on the West coast, consulting arborist and former longtime Redwood City, California city arborist Gordon Mann has good reports for the Sacramento region as well. “After a few years of growing, we are experiencing initial nice crown growth on ‘Musashino’ in locations with narrow overhead growing space,” he says, “If the soil space is adequate, it appears to be a good deciduous tree to include in our palette. The fall color has been attractive, and maintenance needs have been normal.” Mann notes that, similar to his experiences with the narrow callery pear cultivars, the limited spread of the ‘Musashino’ crown does not appear to translate to reduced trunk diameter or root crown swell of the tree at maturity—hence the emphasis on adequate soil volume.

Frank Schmidt & Son. Co. literature says that the slender ‘Musashino’ leaves are just 3 inches (7.6 cm) in length on average, reducing the need for raking/leaf cleanup in the fall. They say that the cultivar “prefers moist, well-drained soil but can tolerate drought, is pH adaptable, pollution tolerant, and more heat tolerant than other zelkova selections.”

According to J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. Director of Communications Nancy Buley, based on a six-year sales history (2009-2014), the nursery sells an average of approximately 6,000 bare root liners per year. Purchasers during the query period are located in 26 states plus Ontario, Canada—testimony to its adaptability to varied climates and growing conditions.

The SMA recognizes the underutilized, attractive, and extremely useful ‘Musashino’ zelkova for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.

A Year of Gratitude


As we approach the holidays and the end of the year, we are fortunate to receive donations each day from so many supporters. From Jesse, a seven year old member who recently called to tell us he was saving his money to buy an apple tree and a red maple tree, to June, a long-time member in her nineties who just established a planned gift to benefit the Foundation. Our members and supporters are incredibly diverse. They are all united, however, by the belief that the simple act of planting trees can help solve many of our world’s biggest, most significant challenges.

People walking at Valley Forge National Park in a foggy morning at Sunrise

People walking at Valley Forge National Park in a foggy morning at sunrise.

With that in mind, we want to pause to say “Thank You” to all of our members, supporters and partners during this holiday season. Much like Margaret Mead, we believe that a thoughtful group of committed citizens can change the world. So to Nora in Juneau, Alaska, Joseph in Jackson Beach, Florida, Jesse and June, as well as everyone in between, thank you. Thank you for caring for our world. Thank you for believing in the problem-solving role that trees can play. Thank you for taking action. But most of all, thank you for planting trees. May each of you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.

In appreciation,

Britt Ehlers

Vice President, Development

A Brief History of (Texas) Trees

“Texas…it’s a whole ‘nother country.” That was the state tourism slogan when I moved there at the start of my forestry career in the late 1980’s. It’s a catchy reference to the decade when Texas was an independent nation, before becoming the 28th state in 1845. The tourism campaign also highlighted the vastness of the state: its deserts, mountains and forests; its cultural heritage and diversity; its tourist attractions, and everything else that pointed to being “big.” In fact, the more recognizable – and unofficial – state motto is, “Everything’s Bigger in Texas!”

I like American history, which I trace back to my Philadelphia upbringing. Just walking to elementary school in my neighborhood took my friends and I through portions of Revolutionary War battlefields. Historical signs in front of existing homes and storefronts pointed to the fact that “George Washington slept here.” The round pebbles we dug out of the soil as kids surely were “red-coat” musket balls, dropped where a soldier was dropped in 1777. Our imaginations ran wild! I found out later that those “musket balls” we used as slingshot ammunition were merely a product of the region’s geology – red garnets, weathered from local fieldstone. But living and breathing in that southeast corner of “Penn’s Woods” in one of the oldest American cities instilled a sense of wonder about the past…and of trees.

Twenty years later when I started my forestry career, I lived in the eastern portion of the Lone Star state, where history seemed entirely avoidable. Old homes were few and far between, often demolished to make room for a new and – Texas-style – bigger houses. The trees and forests were so commonplace in the region that few people even blinked when they were removed for a road or a new shopping mall or other signs of human progress. I felt homesick.

So I was gratified to find on my office bookshelf one particular volume that shared both my love of history and my love for trees: Famous Trees of Texas, first published in 1970 by my employer, the Texas Forest Service (TFS). It chronicled the stories of historical events and Texas heroes through the stories of a handful of named trees, silent witnesses to the events of bygone times. Spread out across the state, these trees also helped me learn the diversity of tree species and the geography of Texas, from the Red River to the Rio Grande and the Llano Estacado (or “Staked Plain”) to the river sloughs (pronounced “slews”) of the Pineywoods.

Those early lessons and stories would serve me well in my career with TFS (now the Texas A&M Forest Service), for whom I worked for more than 26 years. As I moved from a field office, where my duties included fighting forest fires and planting trees, to the agency headquarters and a new role in urban forestry, I also became the coordinator of the Texas Big Tree Registry – a list of the biggest tree for each species in the state. “What could be a better job than this?” I often asked, pinching myself. “I get to help find, measure, and document the very biggest trees in a state that knows a thing or two about big things!”

As duty would have it, one of my first trips as coordinator was to re-measure the state champion live oak (Quercus virginiana) – at one time a National Champion – near the town of Rockport along the Gulf Coast. It’s so well-known as a Texas giant, it’s simply called, “The Big Tree,” and is a cultural touchstone for Texans, inspiring family trips and the question, “Have you seen The Big Tree yet? You have to go see it!” Live oak is one of the most common tree species in Texas, so most people are familiar with how slow they grow. To visit one with a trunk that’s 35 feet around is simply awe-inspiring! “How old is it?” many will ask, which is tougher to answer. All we know is that the tree served as a landmark and rendezvous point for Native Americans along the coast for generations before colonization. Some estimate its age at more than 1,000 years.

The Big Tree

“The Big Tree” at Goose Island State Park near Rockport, Texas

Which is why The Big Tree was also included in Famous Trees of Texas. It’s legendary size and age inspired historical legends, as well. Early coastal explorers such as Cabeza de Vaca (1528) may have traveled past this landmark tree on his eight-year walk to Mexico City. Legend or historical fact, this story deserves its place in the pages of the book, which is dedicated to tell the stories of trees that “have witnessed exciting events or eras in Texas history.”

At a presentation this past spring, I was asked – along with the book’s principal author, Gretchen Riley – to name our favorite tree, as if choosing just one is even possible! But since you asked, and since we dedicated most of the final chapter (“Everything Is Bigger”) to those trees that have been so big for so long that they have become famous in their own right, I’ll share one last story….

National Champion

The National Champion Runyon’s Esenbeckia

As an admitted “tree geek,” I really enjoyed hunting for Texas’ rarest tree species. Owing to its “bigness,” Texas has 11 ecoregions, including a small portion of subtropical brushlands in deep South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. In 1929, when that region was being cleared for agriculture – primarily citrus orchards for which the region is still famous – a local botanist, Robert Runyon, collected samples from an unknown tree along the bank of a nearby resaca and sent the samples to the Smithsonian museum for identification. That new species was named Esenbeckia runyonii in his honor, a new species in the citrus family, sometimes called limoncillo.

He had also collected seed for his private collection, which was a good thing because when he went back for more samples, the grove of trees had been cleared and he could not locate any additional populations of the species in the United States. He sprouted the seeds and planted one of them in the backyard of his Brownsville home. This tree – now the reigning National Champion for the species – was, and may still be, the rarest tree in Texas and possibly the entire U.S.

Deodar Cedar: Himalayan Divine

Cedrus deodara

Deodar CedarDeodar—derived from Sanskrit to mean “timber of the gods”— is native to the western Himalayas and a staple in eastern forests. The Deodar Cedar is popular for its towering heights, reaching as high as 250 feet in its natural habitat. Tree expert Michael Dirr even referred to it “the most graceful cedar,” and by the look of its unique branching patterns and attractive coloring it’s understandable why.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding it to your tree family.

Environmental Conditions

  • Deodar cedars grow well in acidic, clay, loamy, moist and well drained soils. They are also drought tolerant (hardiness zones 7-9).
  • Medium growing tree, growing one to two feet a year and reaching 40-70 feet in height at maturity.
  • Prefers full sun, at least six hours of direct sunlight every day.

Physical Attributes

  • Has a smooth gray-brown bark in its youth and develops short furrows with scaly ridge tops as it ages.
  • Has sharp-tip needles that shed in the spring as new growth appears.
  • Features bluish-green or silvery needles and a distinct layering branch pattern. This tree is a popular windbreak choice.

Tag us in a photo with your Deodar Cedar!

Last-minute Gifts That Make a Big Impact

Do you need a last-minute gift or two? Maybe the company holiday party snuck up on you or you just realized you accidently left Cousin Kathy off your gift list. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. The Arbor Day Foundation has you covered with last-minute gift options that make a lasting impact on the environment.

tic-mark-photo-rightWith Trees in Celebration, each dollar donated plants a tree in one of our National Forests. And you can instantly print a commemorative certificate at home to give to the recipient. They’ll love this gift that continues to give long after the holidays are over.

Holiday Give-A-Tree® e-Cards can be easily delivered via email, and each card plants a tree to help revitalize our nation’s forests. Simply select one of our gorgeous e-card designs and add a personal message. It is that easy!

e-give-a-tree-mark-photo-rightThis holiday season, instead of knickknacks or gift cards, plant trees for your friends, family, and colleagues. Last-minute gift giving has never been so simple—or so environmentally friendly.

There is still time! Shop Trees in Celebration and Give-A-Tree e-Cards from the Arbor Day Foundation today and give a gift they’ll remember for a lifetime.

Community Tree Recovery: How to Get Involved


Every year, natural disasters strike communities throughout the United States. Over the past three years, FEMA has declared over 256 individual domestic disasters. These disasters not only affect the people and the infrastructure of the affected communities, but also affect the natural environment as well. The loss of trees is a major component to this devastation, and is far more than meets the eye.


Volunteers work together to replant a tree in the Oklahoma Tree Recovery Campaign.

Trees play a vital role in our everyday lives and are often overlooked until they are no longer there. Trees help clean the water we drink, and improve the quality of the air we breathe. They provide natural spaces for our children to play, and food for a multitude of wildlife to eat. For many people, trees invoke memories of childhood climbing or apple picking. Residents of disaster-stricken areas often talk about the void they feel after their trees have been destroyed. These reasons demonstrate how important it is to restore those lost trees after a natural disaster.

If a disaster strikes your state or community, once the initial needs of the people are met there are numerous ways to jump start the process of tree recovery. Many groups and organizations are invested in the health of your urban tree canopy and can provide you guidance on what sort of specific response your community may need. A good first step would be to reach out to one of the following leaders at your local, county or state level:

Local Level

  • City Forester
  • City Manager

County Level

  • County Forester
  • County Judge

State Level

  • State Forester
  • Urban and Community Forestry Coordinator
Girls Celebrating and Planting

A group of girls help replant trees as part of the Kentucky Tree Recovery Campaign.

These leaders will be able to direct you towards future tree plantings efforts as your community continues to recover. You can also research local non-profit tree planting organizations. Local organizations are great advocates for communities and often have connections to a wide network of organizations who may also want to get involved. Alliance for Community Trees—a program of the Arbor Day Foundation—is a great resource to finding potential non-profits in your area; access the list here.

The Community Tree Recovery program is another way to start discussions on tree recovery in your area. The program focuses on getting trees back into the hands of homeowners following natural disasters. We partner with state and local forestry partners to ensure that long-term tree recovery is a part of the overall recovery process for devastated communities.

We currently have 11 Community Tree Recovery campaigns helping restore communities back to their natural state before they were struck by natural disaster. You can donate online to a specific campaign, or to where the need for funding is greatest. Online donations to the Community Tree Recovery program can be completed here.

However you choose to get involved, replanting our urban tree canopy is an extremely important piece of the recovery process following a natural disaster. Beginning the process of replenishing trees will ensure that the next generation enjoys the natural beauty that once was. Don’t wait to get involved. Find out how you can help your community and state recover today.